Calling on the hundreds of thousands of people opposed to the Fund for Priority Development Assistance (PDAF) to take care of the poor, the prelate attacked the programme as a pork barrel scheme that is a source of corruption and malfeasance.
And he was alone, for Catholic activists, representatives of civil society groups and the non-religious joined him in protest.
For his part, President Aquino tried to downplay the issue by promising quick action.
Created in 1990 as the Countrywide Development Fund (CDF), the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) is a discretionary endowment available to members of Congress.
It allows lawmakers to fund organisations, associations and small-scale infrastructure or community projects that fall outside the scope of the national infrastructure programme.
Used to buy votes, the PDAF has been a trough for pork barrelling, a practice that has come under strong criticism because of the abuse, corruption and malfeasance it generates to the tune of billions of pesos (especially in 1996 and 2013).
Speaking in a Manila square before some 350,000 people who answered the call to join the “Million March”, Card Tagle called on his fellow citizens to show “honour”.
Addressing hundreds of thousands of expatriates, he called for more “honesty and patriotism”, emotions that appeal to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, which must be shown “in places of worship, mosques and churches.”
As a keen observer of social issues and the problems of the poor, he wants more decisive action for the poor and the destitute, slamming pork barrel as “heart-breaking”.
The cardinal was not alone at the rally. Catholic activists, socially involved as well as non-religious groups joined him in the street.
For Mgr Antonio Ledesma, archbishop of Cagayan de Oro, the funding scandal is a “grave immoral act” that must be eliminated for the good of the country, a tough stance against the government headed by President Benigno Aquino, who came to power in 2010 thanks to a campaign against corruption and in favour of good governance.
In recent days, Aquino promised changes to the way the fund is managed and its moneys distributed.
However, for critics, including activist groups and the Catholic Church, the president’s pledge was just window-dressing to chip away at demonstrators’ will and prevent further mass demonstrations against his administration.